CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Brandon Marshall came to Harvard University recently to tell a story. It was a story about freedom. As the Dolphins' two-time Pro Bowl receiver stood in front of about 250 students on a cool fall evening, he told them a story of wild success and utter despair.
He told them his story.
"My pain, sadness and resentments give me my strength,'' Marshall wrote one day last spring while in intensive therapy at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., for a form of mental illness known as borderline personality disorder.
"My strength ruined my mind, body and soul," Marshall told the students. "I've been trapped all my life not by man or cages but by my own emotions. Where I've been, what I've seen while traveling inside myself can be summed up in one word — DAMN!''
As he peeled back layers of emotional camouflage hiding a problem that had begun to devour him, Marshall felt freer than he'd been in years. When the therapists first told him what BPD was, it was not a day of sadness. It was a relief.
"That was my 'a-ha' moment,'' Marshall said. "I felt a tremendous weight lifted.''
As he spoke, Marshall was barely 24 hours removed from having failed to help the Dolphins break a six-game losing streak, blowing a 15-point lead to the Broncos. In the past, that might have set off a spiral of self-doubt, frustration, depression, anger and explosion.
But the past is behind him now, like too many of the passes thrown his way this season. He has moved on, having come to Harvard to tell someone hidden in the crowd or someone in the larger world that they don't have to be a prisoner of their emotional pain.
"The things that made me special ... were the same things that had begun to ruin my life,'' Marshall said. "There came a point where it consumed me. It controlled me.
"I've been a dreamer since I was a little boy. I wrote down my goals. I accomplished all of them: make it to the NFL, be the first in my family to graduate college ... but I was never happy.
"How's that possible?"
BPD was the reason why. Borderline personality disorder involves violent mood swings and something known as "splitting,'' where one vacillates between idealizing and demonizing others. It results in deep and intense anger, often seemingly springing from nowhere, followed by extreme idealization.
Like most forms of mental illness, it is treatable but is seldom spoken of. Marshall hopes to change that, intending to become the public face of BPD, a spokesman for enlightenment.
"It was sad because I didn't understand why I couldn't turn that switch off. (Now) I play with a lot of passion, a lot of emotion, the way the game is supposed to be played, but now I have the ability to turn that switch off when the clock hits zero. Without the help of McLean Hospital, I wouldn't have had that ability. Honestly, I'd probably be out of the NFL by now. I'd probably be divorced. I don't want to even think where I would be after that, but it wouldn't be good.''
Where he is today is very good. It's at the head of a movement bigger than football, a movement to help others do what he's doing — getting into the open and running free.